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Buy.com Tour expected to have multi-million dollar impact

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PASS CHRISTIAN — The Mississippi Gulf Coast Open, formerly part of the Nike Tour, has a new sponsor and a purse that has nearly doubled from $250,000 to $400,000.

Buy.com, one of the largest e-commerce sales companies, has taken over sponsorship of the Nike Tour which includes the Mississippi Gulf Coast Open that will be held at The Oaks Golf Club in Pass Christian Feb. 27 through March 5.

“What this does for the Coast area is position us as a major golf destination because the tournament is broadcast live on the Golf Channel, and then it will be shown several times on replay,” said Jim Pitts, director of tourism, Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Golf is becoming more and more important to us as far as developing the Coast as a tourism destination. Hosting a tournament like this really enhances our image as golf destination. Golf is one of our main attractions on the Coast.”

Besides an estimated 156 players and their families and other supporters, a number of tourists are expected to visit the Coast for the tournament. The short-term economic impact has been estimated at $2 million. The potential long-term impact is even greater.

“Last year the biggest thing that we saw as a result of the tournament was an increase in the number of inquiries about golf,” Pitts said. “Golf inquiries increased dramatically. The long-term impact is establishing the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a golf destination. Our golf rounds for the last couple of months have been up more than 40%.”

Pitts said now that winter has set in up north, the Coast is getting a lot of golfers particularly from the Midwest. Business from Canada is also brisk.

“And our business from Canada is really starting to pick up, also,” Pitts said. “As soon as the weather gets severe up North and throughout the Midwest, that’s when hotel golf coordinators’ phones start ringing off the hook with people wanting to come down to play golf.”

Scott Ratcliff, executive director of the buy.com Mississippi Gulf Coast Open, said the tournament is a charitable event. On the Coast it is operating under the Gulf Coast Community Foundation Inc., a 501(c)3 organization. Ratcliff said that since PGA decided to establish all of their events as charitable tournaments, more than $500 million has been donated to charity.

“Last year $30,000 went to Boys and Girls Clubs from the Mississippi Gulf Coast Open, and we are targeting over $50,000 in donations this year with revenues over $500,000,” Ratcliff said.

Besides benefitting the Boys and Girls Clubs, Ratcliff said the tournament will provide a major boost for raising visibility for the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a golf destination because the tournament will be televised on the Golf Channel, which has more than 33 million viewers.

“The economic impact is not just during tournament week,” Ratcliff said. “What happens is that the tournament gives us recognition in the golfing arena to be able to attract more golfers and more travelers to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We’re also starting to see a lot more developers of golf courses looking to move into this area and build golf courses. We believe that is in direct relation to us being televised nationally, showing them we are ready to market an up-and-coming golfing destination. “

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Open is one of 30 events in the buy.com Tour being held across the country. Ratcliff said a lot of ex-PGA tour players play on this developmental tour. He said that golf in general has grown considerably with four $5-million World Golf Championship events. He would eventually like to see the buy.com Tour becoming the AFC of the PGA Tour, with both buy.com and PGA funneling players to the World Golf Championships.

With buy.com taking over the Nike Tour, purses have increased to a minimum of $100,000. The increased purse at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Open from $250,000 to $400,000 represents a 78% increase.

“A bigger purse brings more interest from sponsors, public and players,” Ratcliff said. “We had one of the stronger fields last year. We had 20 past PGA tour champions playing last year. We were opposite of the Nissan Open last year and this year we are opposite of the Doral Open, which is another strong field. We will definitely see some PGA players play our event.”

Ratcliff said buy.com decided to become the new top sponsor because they saw the strength the tour carries in brand awareness, brand building and image building.

“I think buy.com is looking to position themselves as the number one Internet superstore,” Ratcliff said. “This image building and brand awareness will also be carried on a national level for what the Mississippi Gulf Coast has to offer.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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